Place Those Accents Correctly

Many Western European languages use the same alphabet as English, with one significant difference. There can be diacritics (or accents) above certain characters.

For a student of a foreign language, it’s important to place those accents correctly. Sometimes these tiny small markers can be forgotten, for example when conjugating a verb. If the accents are forgotten, the verb conjugation may even fail.

To check that the accents are placed correctly, have a look at the reverse conjugator. There you can write the infinitive without accents and the reverse conjugator tells, whether accents should be added or not.

Check for instance the Spanish verb ‘reir’. (Note! I misspelled it on purpose)

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Verb Conjugation

Verb conjugation is the central part of the sentence in most languages.

Verb conjugation is the creation of derived forms of a verb from its principal parts by inflection. Principal parts is sometimes the infinitive like “cantar” in Spanish, but it can also be verb theme like “skriva – skriver – skrev -skrivit” in Swedish.

In Spanish it’s enough to know the infinitive of a verb to get all the conjugated forms; in the case of regular verbs all the conjugated forms are formed with the same set of endings. Unfortunately there is a big amount of irregular verbs that don’t follow the regular verb conjugation patters.

As shown in the example above, in Swedish verb conjugation there’s a verb theme consisting of four verb forms. All Swedish verb forms are formed by applying the same set of endings to the theme. The theme itself must be memorized, because it contains information about irregularities, if any.

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Spanish Verb Conjugation

Since living a half year in Spain in 1995 I’ve been interested in verbs and verb conjugation. The reason is that the Spanish language has quite a lot of irregular verbs that the student just needs to learn, in order to properly communicate. 

I learnt quite quickly the most used Spanish verbs that are all irregular; ser ’to be’, estar ’to be’, ir ’to go’, tener ’to have’, haber ’to have’, poner ’to put’, etc.

But the more I learnt the more new irregular verbs. So I bought my first verb conjugation book ”Al arte de conjugar verbos en español”. This book simply contains 100+ sample verbs, each representing a group of irregular verbs.  In the end of this book there’s an index with 12,000 verbs that refer to a sample verb.

This kind of verb conjugation book helps the student to find the correct conjugation for any verb. I say any verb, because a verb not being in the book is typically a new verb ‘neologism’ and these tend to be conjugated regularly.

Bookstores seem to have even 10s of verb conjugation books alone for the Spanish language. I assume this is due to Spanish being a popular language to study.

So did I learn to speak Spanish by read a verb conjugation book? No I learnt it when hitch-hiking around the Iberian Peninsula in spring 1995. But in the written Spanish the book served me for a long time as the ultimate help.

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Programming a Spanish Verb Conjugator

I developed the first Spanish verb conjugator in 1995. I chose Visual Basic 1.0 as the programming tool, more or less for two reasons: 1. I could write the software for Microsoft Windows; 2. the tool was free (I got it together with a computer magazine).

Spanish verbs are quite logical in the conjugation. By removing the two last characters from the end of the infinitive, we obtain the stem. And by applying certain endings we can get all the conjugated forms of the verb. Generally the endings depend on the conjugation (whether the verb infinitive ends -ar, -er, or -ir).

By simply applying the endings to the stem the conjugator can conjugate all regular verbs of the Spanish language, which account more than 90% of all the verbs. I porgrammed this in one afternoon.

In order to work well, the conjugator must also be able to conjugate all irregular verbs. This was the tricky part; all irregular verbs had to be put in different categories according to the irregularities that they show. So I wrote a dictionary that contained the irregular verbs and information about the irregularities. This was time consuming and required that the verbs were checked in various books.

At this point I decided to mark all irregularities in red. In means of programming it was done easily; if special rules were applied, use red language.

In addition to irregularities there is something that is called ortographic change. In practice it means that a letter ot two are replced with some other letter in certain situations. The ortigraphic rules are regular, so it was a matter of a few codelines.

Finally as you can imagine, am automated verb conjugator can conjugate the verb in any form. Now there are some verbs in Spanish that are not conjugated in all forms. I chose to mark these forms in grey. Unfortunately I had to build again a dictionary with information of non-existing forms.

To put this together, a Spanish verb conjugator works like this:

  1. Check from dictionary, if the verb is irregular.
  2. If the verb is not found in dictionary, consider that it is regular.
  3. Remove the infinitive ending (-ar, -er, or -ir).
  4. Apply the special rules for irregular verbs.
  5. Add the verb endings and apply the ortographic rules.

That’s it!

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